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The POV of a madman

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by teacup, Jun 19, 2013.

  1. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    I'm thinking about having one of my characters in my wip "crack" and become a bit crazy at some point. I already thought to have him hallucinate and stuff, but I'm wondering how I'd write in his pov, now mad.
    So, how would you guys go about writing this, and have you got any good examples of where this has been done effectively before?

    (If you want to know how he cracks, well, his mind literally cracks. He uses magic and fails, which results in that.)
     
  2. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    Fantasy novels with insane (to varying degrees) characters:

    Pauls Volksy's The Wolf of Winter. Using magic causes insanity eventually, for anyone, in this setting.

    Barbara Hambly's Windrose Chronicles (The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage, Dog Wizard). The main character describes himself as mad -- who are we to argue?


    These are the only two I can think of immediately that fit the criteria of "fantasy story" and "insane character." I'll have to think about it for more than a couple of minutes to come up with any others. (Not having my own library in front of me makes brainstorming difficult.)
     
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  3. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    Thanks Weaver, I have a good while until I'm at that point in the story so I should have plenty of time to have a look at those.
     
  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    His perspective and experiences really depend on the symptoms you want to have him experience. Is he dissociative? Paranoid? Anxious? Depressed? All of these are experienced differently.

    The DSM IV is still currently available, but it is now obsolete and will soon be replaced with the DSM V - basically the Bible of psychiatric disorders. However, it's pricey and you may not want to invest in it just for one character. Another possibility is to find a disorder at random, say dissociative identity disorder Dissociative identity disorder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and play with the links to other descriptions of other disorders on other sites.

    Good luck with crazy!
     
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  5. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    Hm, that could work and be some fun, thanks A.E.
    I think I'll go with hallucinations of his dead wife for the most part (that's gonna be fun) but I'll have a look and see if anything else pops out at me for me to include.
     
  6. Gato Cat

    Gato Cat Dreamer

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    I did my coursework on the presentation of insanity in English literature; specifically whether the execution of the characters' motives was only possible under an insane mentality.

    Anyway, what I noticed is the character's do not actually consider themselves mad. In fact, most of my essay was arguing the point that mental disorder is a human construction. Anyone those ever studied Rosenhan's work will know about the 'stickiness' of the label. Queuing up for dinner became 'oral-acquisitive behaviour'... while in reality was simply boredom in hospital. The action's of a madman will ever seem mad to us. Where does the line begin and end? I think writing the POV of an insane individual should be presented as perfectly normal for them, while we as the audience measure these actions to the conventional norm and come to this conclusion ourselves.

    Some examples I studied in detail:

    The Collector by John Fowles - The protagonist was completely dogmatic and almost chronically set in his believes. Well, I say chronic, he did kidnap is crush and lock her in a cellar - so not exactly normal. I think what made this case interesting is the character avoided claims of insanity by blames others: his family for his upbringing, society, his crush for not acting the way he wanted. He disregarded all responsibility for his actions. Structurally, other character's were given speech marks - the protagonist's speech was written as part of the narrative, perhaps to show that he practically lived in his own world. The motif of butterflies exemplified the character's obsession with perfection - stale beauty. He was a butterfly collector who killed and set the insects to his liking. His crush was just a step up - in fact, he casually compares her to his dead butterflies and considers it a compliment! Fowles managed to pull off an equal measure of sympathy and disgust. His voice and actions let us assume insanity by ourselves while his poor upbringing evokes understanding and, uncomfortably, relatability.

    Hamlet by... well, Shakespeare obviously. I think your example could work similarly to this. People have been arguing Hamlet's mental state since time immemorial but for the sake of consistency, lets assume Hamlet went nuts at some point in the play. His 'snap' can be argued to be the steady pressure his vendetta puts on his mental state, finally breaking surface with the accidental murder of Polonius. Your idea of hallucinations - well, Hamlet thinks his father has come to visit him from the grave to justify a mission for revenge... except Hamlet already held a grudge his uncle for the latter's marriage to his mother. Pretty convenient, eh? The vague nature of the visits is what makes the case so fascinating. Maybe you could do something similar? Are the hallucinations magic, or the own character's subconscious? Again, Hamlet never truly considered himself mad, though he certainly fit the bill by the end of the play... arguably.

    I hope there's something useful in all those words - I think I went a bit nuts finding a question I could attempt to answer, haha. :D
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2013
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  7. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    Wow, thanks Gato, you know your stuff. You could be useful.
    I'll have to have a look at those.
    I think what I'll do is make the villain's POV the full insane one, with those things you've suggested, and stick mostly to hallucinations of his wife dead for the other mad man. You've helped a lot, thanks ^^

    That "The Collector" sounds interesting actually, I'll be reading that for leisure if nothing else.
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    One crucial decision to make is the POV. First person is going to read far differently from third person.

    The nature of crazy will also matter. Is he simply manic, doing crazy stuff because he's driven mad by grief or love? Or has he suffered a psychic break and is hallucinating?

    One aspect you may want to think about as well is how the character recovers. Coming back from true insanity is a long, difficult process, unless you're going to mend him magically. Ooh, which brings up the possibility of madness by magic, which could turn out to have completely original manifestations.
     
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  9. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    3rd person, and he's hallucinating due to magic, though he's still a good guy. The villain also goes crazy, but that's due to having a sort of "dark spirit" taking control of his mind. He's the one who'd be a bit manic, though I can have the antagonist attack his friends thinking they're monsters due to hallucination.
    I'm planning on having the villain delve deeper and deeper into madness as it goes on, and the antagonist to be helped by a sort of "good spirit" that's inside him, trying to hold the "crack" together that happened with the magic. I'm thinking on whether to make him insane at the end, or to heal him, but there's plenty I can do with that.
     
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Ok...

    I have a cousin who (lets see if I remember this right) was diagnosed as a 'borderline paranoid schizophrenic with suicidal tendencies' - and had several stays in mental institutions to go with that.

    I talked with him a lot, back then. The highlights:

    1) The Voices. Disembodied voices telling him to do things. One, a female, kept pestering him to move to Seattle. Another, whom he termed 'God' told him he was worthless and ordered him to commit suicide more than once. There was also a sadistic jester sort he called the 'Leprechaun'.

    2) The 'eye' thing. My cousin became convinced that people were 'attacking him with their eyes'. Not just people he knew or saw occasionally, but casual passerby types. In the worst cases, this applied to people on the television. Once, I took him grocery shopping in a not exactly crowded store. He dang near didn't make it to the checkout line because of this. He took to living with covered windows and keeping his head down.

    3) Sleep and Memory issues. My cousin would go for days at a time without sleeping. The longer he went without sleep, the more his short term memory suffered. A few times I'd come back from work to find my answering machine filled with messages from him, each fifteen or twenty minutes apart, and he'd have no recollection of calling at all when I called back. Essentially, large chunks of recent time for him simply vanished.

    For a time, I also drove a van which ferried Alzhiemer patients around (among others). Most of them had serious short term memory issues.

    'Look, a plane!'

    'Yes,' I'd say.

    Two minutes later 'Look, a plane!'

    They also lost track of where they were in time. I once drove one past a campaign sign. He started carrying on about some local politician I'd never heard of, and how we'd have to get him out of office. When I checked with my parents, it turned out said politician had been out of office for thirty years and dead for twenty - and this patient had led the campaign against him. But for this guy...then was now (at least for an hour or two).
     
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  11. Truepinkas

    Truepinkas Dreamer

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    Depending on your POV, it might be interesting to mess with the readers a bit. Play it like the hallucinations are real, and the people NOT seeing them are the crazy ones... Then at some point flip it so the reader feels the other way. You might even end up leaving it ambiguous in the end where the reader isn't really sure which party is really crazy? The trick would be to do it in such a way that it doesn't alter your core plot.
     
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  12. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    I don't think that leaving it ambiguous all the way through is a good idea. It sounds like the fact that the character is insane is important to the story. I do agree that keeping it ambiguous for a while is a good idea. I'm reminded of a novel by Dean Koontz, Twilight Eyes, in which the reader cannot be certain at the beginning if the first-person narrator is sane or not. Maybe he's a crazed murderer, and maybe he sees actual evil things that most people are unaware of. The ambiguity definitely adds to the tension.
     
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  13. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    Brain imaging scans of paranoid schizophrenics show the auditory centers of the brain light up when they hear voices. They really hear voices. It's not coming through the ears, but the brain doesn't know the difference. Out reality is a patchwork illusion created in each of our heads. Shake up the chemistry and one person's experience of reality doesn't match up with the majority's. The only thing that makes us sane is knowing that our versions are pretty similar to each others.

    Dementia is another scary mental disorder. My wife's grandfather was suffering from it. Without his medication, he would start having delusions that people were trying to poison him. He'd put towels to block the air under the door, and say and do all sorts of things that made perfect sense in a world where people are trying to poison you. The only problem was that nobody was trying to poison him, and so his antics were considered crazy. If I thought someone was trying to kill me, I would take any number of preventative measures, and I would probably arm myself and try to get them before they got to me, if I could find them.

    I have someone in the family who is high functioning, but occasionally is debilitated by obsessive behavior. He gets certain that there is a mold, or dust, or something that will harm his infant son if he breathes it. A perfectly good behavior. However, he starts with a cleaning binge, using bleach, opening all the windows, vacuuming the same room for four hours. It comes and it goes, and then he seems quite normal for a while.

    If you are sure of something, and it resembles a threat, you will put all your mental prowess into action to protect yourself. Rational self-torment comes in moments where they realize that their behavior has not been "normal", and they fear lapsing from lucidity.

    Two movies that come to mind are Naked Lunch and Jacob's Ladder. Although both seem to have something to do with drug induced hallucinations, they give a sense of what a shifting reality can be like.

    I went to work today and then to my son's high school graduation. What if someone told me I was laying in bed all day, and had been for months? I'd think they were crazy. I know I went to work. Or did I?
     
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  14. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

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  15. teacup

    teacup Auror

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    Firstly, I'm sorry to hear about everyone's family going through this kind of stuff.
    Thank you all, though, you've been a great help.

    Truepinkas: that is a good idea, but for this particular story, I don't think it would work too well. I might incorporate it a bit into the villain, though.

    Everyone else: Everything you've put is really helpful, I'm confident that I can write these parts well now, when I get to them. There's so many books to read and movies to watch on it too, which is great. Once again, thank you all.
     
  16. Grimwen

    Grimwen New Member

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    Wow, writing a madman's POV is kinda daunting, good luck!

    Like A.E. Lowan and skip.knox said, it'd be very useful to decide what kind of symptoms you'd like your guy to have. Although, since it's fantasy and not 'real world' madness, it doesn't necessarily have to fit in categories as we know them, right? But researching the various forms and shapes of madness is a very helpful way of exploring your options and getting some ideas.

    On a practical note, I can think of 2 ways in which you can tinker around with portraying madness, content and sentence structure. To use a random (paranoid) example (not written super-well :p)

    1) Content: The curtains are hiding conspiracies in their folds, I can hear them whispering secrets, they're huddling their vindictive voices in their folds, they're plotting against me, please, someone draw them shut, straighten them out so they can't whisper their destructive secrets, I have to close them, but I can't touch them, they'll suck me into their nasty hidden little place.

    2) Sentence structure: The curtains - whispering slithering secretive vindictive - how I hate their plotting, plodding, puddling folds - please please please draw them, shut them, straighten them, no more whispers, conspiracies, gossips, I can't touch them, shouldn't touch, stay away, stay safe.

    Personally, I prefer 1, because it *sounds* sane, making the odd content just a little more jarring. Also, messing around with sentence structure can get kinda... weird, to say the least, as well as a little too James Joyce, which can easily come across as kinda pretentious and forced and very artificial... then again, word association thingy is a symptom of some forms of psychological disturbance, I think. Perhaps you just need a lot of skill to pull it off.

    One last note, on the idea of hallucinations: I'd make sure the hallucinations are just a little off, like there should be something a little disturbing or a little strange about it. Otherwise, it could just as well be a flashback or memory, right? For example, instead of just 'remembering' something like walking along a river with his dead wife, he'd hallucinate walking along the river with her, all nice and happy up to the point when she turns to smile at him and he realizes that she doesn't have any eyes. Of course, it's up to you how horrible you want it to be, it doesn't have to be.

    (It's not fantasy, and not necessarily an easy read, but Helen Dunmore's 'A spell of winter' did, imo, a very good job of showing the slow descent into madness from the POV of the mad person herself)

    Good luck!
     
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  17. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

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    Someone now has to write a novel written in the POV of Sheogorath from Oblivion.
     
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